At first glance you might think that the United Kingdom’s Field Marshal Lord Douglas Haig and the 43rd President of the United States, George Walker Bush, have very little in common. One is British and no longer living, and the other is American and very much alive. One was a life-long professional soldier who never became a politician, while the other served six years in the National Guard on native soil and most of the rest of his life in politics.
Until recently I have not held much respect for either man. Before I started writing about the First World War, I only thought of Lord Haig’s reputation as ‘Butcher Haig,’ chief amongst the ‘donkeys’ who had led the ‘Lions’ to slaughter. In 2003, when President Bush ordered troops to invade Iraq, I told anyone that cared to listen that I thought he was making a huge mistake.
For more than a decade, it has been my opinion that President Bush needlessly threw away soldiers’ lives in a poorly conceived attempt to chase down Saddam Hussein’s non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction. I still will never really agree with President Bush’s decisions – the lives of thousands of US soldiers, including those of brother-soldiers in my own regiment, were lost in this folly. And deep down, despite the improving view by some historians, I will never really understand how on so many occasions Lord Haig seemed to arbitrarily sacrifice many thousands of lives in the name of victory at any cost. But recently, my views on both men have softened for one reason.
By November 1920, the plight of ex-servicemen who had returned from the trenches of France and Flanders was there for all to see. While the government and most politicians tried to help the country heal by memoralising the dead with the construction of a national shrine -- the Cenotaph -- and the return of an Unknown Warrior to be buried in Westminster Abbey, one man stood up for ex-servicemen. On Armistice Day, Lord Haig gave a lengthy interview to The Times. He said, “Today we honour the dead, let us not forget the living.” He spoke of the hardships faced by unemployed soldiers, some of whom were physically and mentally scarred by their service.
He went on to say, “So long as any single ex-servicemen, able to work and willing to work, remains unemployed, the nation’s debt of honour to its defenders will not be justly paid.” Until his death in 1928, Lord Haig would prove that he meant what he said. He dedicated the remainder of his life fighting for the rights of the men he had led in battle.
In 1921, after months of negotiations, Lord Haig helped bring four separate organisations together to form what became known as the British Legion. Established on May 14, 1921, His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales, was its patron, and Lord Haig became its first president. Also in 1921, he set up a separate charity, the Haig Fund, which would be used to collect funds directly for ex-servicemen. In July 1921, Lord Haig persuaded the British Legion to adopt the red ‘Flanders Poppy’ as their symbol of remembrance. Eight million poppies were sold in the first year, raising £106,000 for the Haig Fund. The tradition is now woven into the fabric of British culture with the money raised from each year’s Poppy Appeal benfitting ex-servicemen to this day. Furthermore, in 1928, in memoriam after his death, the organisation Haig Homes was set up to help house ex-servicemen and their families.
Like most ex-presidents upon leaving office, President Bush remained very quiet. But, having presided over such a devisive term in office and receiving record-low approval ratings, his silence was deafening. Yet over the past few years it has become obvious that the 43rd president of the United States has been very busy. In September 2016, speaking of the men and women he sent to war, President Bush said, “I intend to support and salute them for the rest of my life.” He has since launched a book of paintings that will help raise money for post-9/11 service families. He has set up a Military Service Initiaive through the George W. Bush Presidential Center, and he is a strong supporter of the Invictus Games that involves wounded servicemen and women from the United States and Great Britain.
Both Lord Haig and President Bush courted controveresy whilst they led their countries’ soldiers into war. Whether you agree with their actions and fault them for the horrific loss of life is an individual’s viewpoint. But, it should be recognized that both men dedicated their later lives to the service of those same soldiers.
 “The Quick and the Dead,” The Times, 12 Nov 1920.
 “George W Bush to publish book of military paintings,” Independent, 15 Sep 2016.
With just a little less than a month left in Blacksburg, before we move north to Canton, New York, I feel compelled to write about rugby, and the team that has been a huge part of my life for the last six years. Also, after this past weekend's victory at the Atlantic Coast Rugby League Sevens, (and a distinct lack of media coverage) I wanted to say how proud I am of Virginia Tech rugby - all its players coaches, admin staff, fans, parents and alumni. Also, I want to take this opportunity to explain what has happened with the Virginia Tech Men's rugby team over the past four years - what we have done differently, and how I think this could be replicated elsewhere.
Virginia Tech beat Clemson in the final 26-19. But because they were beaten in pool play by the Tigers on Saturday, despite beating both Virginia and North Carolina, this meant they needed to get past Notre Dame in a play-in game first, before beating Maryland in overtime of the semi-final on Sunday. Clemson got to the final with a tight win over Boston College - all teams had to deal with monsoon like conditions most of the time.
Clemson have had an incredible year in fifteens getting to the quarter-finals of the Varsity Cup the week before, only losing by one point to the Naval Academy. Because of Virginia Tech's win over Maryland, Clemson had qualified for the Collegiate Rugby Championships, and even if they lost to the Hokies (who were invited last fall) they would be appearing on the big stage in Philadelphia at the end of May. However, the way the Tigers came out in the final, you wouldn't have thought so. Looking to add a Sevens title along with two ACRL Fifteens wins in 2013 & 2014, Clemson scored first. The Hokies replied only for Clemson to go ahead again. then Virginia Tech got hold of a loose pass to tie it all up in the second half. The deciding moment came when a Tigers player kicked the ball away at a penalty and was yellow carded. Sevens experience took over as the Hokies took full advantage and scored 14 unanswered points. Clemson scored again when they were back at full strength, but it was too late, the Hokies had their second ACRL Sevens title.
Of the four tournaments the Hokies have played in this spring, they have finished second twice and won two, including this title and last weekend in Blacksburg. Now all that is left is the CRC in Philadelphia. This current team is talented, has experience, athletic runners and like most ACRL teams this past weekend, was not up to full strength. The fact that two of the fastest players in the team were not available due to injury adds a little polish to this weekend's win. With a little luck, a good six weeks preparation, and with a favorable pool draw, I see no reason why the Hokies cannot get to the quarter-finals this time around. Last year, despite coming second in their group, the Hokies missed out on the quarter-finals by points difference to Penn State. Coach Craig Bucher has got the team playing clever Sevens rugby and captain Paul Caron has been running the fitness regime and masterminding things on the field. The future looks very bright for sure. Go to Philly and support your Hokies.
Since 2012, the Hokies have won two ACRL titles (2012 & 2015) and have twice lost in semi-finals either in sudden death OT (2014) or the last play of the game (2013). This success has come about because in May 2012, a deliberate change in attitude towards Sevens was adapted. Sure, I suggested it, but it would not have happened if it were not for 100% commitment from everyone involved with the team.
The 2009 decision to include Rugby Sevens in the 2016 Olympics and subsequent emergence of the NBC broadcasted CRC were major factors. We knew that Virginia Tech was a big brand named school and we would be ideal for the CRC. So like every other ACRL teams we did our best to qualify through the ACRL. But in 2010 and 2011, despite having a talented and well coached team, the Hokies came up short on both occasions. So in 2012, we changed things up.
After the end of 15s spring league games, we assembled a Sevens team together, came up with some common goals and spent the last few weeks of the spring semester going back to the basics. We committed to two tournaments in the summer (Richmond and Cape Fear) winning our division at both. Then we got ready for the ACRL Sevens Series which started that fall. We had our ups and downs, we suffered with injuries and learned a lot on the way, and by the ACRL championships in Virginia Tech were underdogs for sure. Reduced to a one-day event because of Hurricane Sandy, the Hokies beat North Carolina and Maryland before ending two-time champions NC State's run in the semi-final. Because UVA had beaten Navy in the semi-final, the final was set up perfectly - the winner was going to the CRC. Riding their luck and showing great determination, the Hokies overcame a 31-19 deficit with 2 minutes left to win with the last kick of the game, 33-31. Now, almost three years later, with a seasonality change in place for fifteens and sevens, and fantastic support from the Recreational Sports Department, parents and alumni, the Hokies are playing Sevens in the spring and this May will be heading to Philly for a third time in a row.
Developing Sevens at Virginia Tech as a separate entity from fifteens has been successful - some other schools are doing the same thing. The fall is Fifteens, and as soon as school is in session in January its Sevens tryout time with the remainder of the fifteens team playing fifteens tournaments and matches through the spring as separate team. Despite being a club sport, the Sevens players have been treating themselves like Varsity athletes, training between eight and ten times a week, 7am sessions in the gym with a hired S&C trainer and two nights a week on the athletic track too. Have there been problems? Yes, for sure. Its taken a while to fully integrate the fifteens team into the same system but hopefully, this fall you will now see a difference. The fifteens team has been working very hard, and will surely soon be rewarded.
Now every school is different, and this will not work for some. At big schools like Virginia Tech, how far you take it will be limited by many things that are simply out of your control. But getting a smaller number of players to commit to being student-athletes as dedicated as any varsity athlete, has been easier to do here. Putting an emphasis into Sevens has raised the level of awareness in the program throughout the school. Hopefully this will continue well into the future, and those that come after me, can replicate the comparative success in we've had in Sevens, with success in fifteens.
For the past couple of weeks, several times a day, my 10-year old daughter and I have been talking about the stock market. At school, in one of her 5th grade classes, she and her class mates, along with many others of her age, are taking part in an on line game called, The Stock Market Game. Each team is given a fictitious $ amount and then they are let loose on the Stock Market, buying and selling as they please. It has led to some interesting conversations.
Jasmine and her team decided to buy shares in Hershey because their teacher had told them that in the future, chocolate might become a delicacy. This sparked a debate. I asked whether or not that was a good investment? Would the long-term value of the company increase if that companies access to raw materials was being hindered? She then explained that they bought the shares because Valentine's Day was approaching, after this weekend, they intended to sell them.
Then there was Apple. Last week they wanted to buy Apple shares but were advised against it by her teacher (and myself) because we had both read that Apple had lost its innovative edge and was being caught up by other companies. Jasmine agreed and told me that her team had decided Apple was so expensive that they thought that there was nowhere for Apple shares to go, but down.
The immediate lessons she has learned from this is that playing the stock market is hard. The price of Hershey stock has jumped historically before Valentine's Day each year, so there is a way to make a short-term profit on the stock market. Apple just announced record quarterly profits, making the case that there is no ceiling where some companies are concerned, and Apple customers are very loyal. This is all well and good and most would say that this is a great game for kids in school because many lessons are being learnt.
But I do have my doubts.
Playing the stock market is gambling - you wouldn't play a game in school that gave kids $500,000 of make believe money and then let them play 5 Card Stud or Texas Hold-Em. You could say that letting 10 year olds invest such large sums in the stock market is tantamount to saying, "Its okay to gamble, kids." I do wonder if any teams just sit on their $ and do not invest? That would surely be the best cause of action in most cases.
Then for me there is another moral issue. Most gains made on the stock market usually come at the expense of someone else. One person's gain is usually another person's loss. Is teaching our children to become the 1% something we should be encouraging? I'm not so sure.
Differ with my views or not, I think the main lesson Jasmine has learnt from all this, is that it is probably not a great idea to listen to your father when buying stock market shares.
Zanvoorde isn’t a widely known battle of the First World War. It isn’t the Somme, Mons, Passchendaele or the Marne. It doesn’t have the same ring as any of the other bigger iconic battles, and for the British Army it wasn’t one of its finest moments. Listed on the Standards and Guidons of the Household Cavalry as 'Ypres 1914', the action at Zanvoorde would be largely forgotten, known only by the public as just a small part of the 'First battle of Ypres.' But ask any old Household Cavalryman and you’ll hear a tale a of bravery, courage and the ultimate sacrifice of almost three hundred of our fellow Household Cavalrymen. For our regiment, it was the bloodiest and most costly loss of life since the Battle of Waterloo.
Almost a century ago, at 6.45 on the morning of 30th October 1914, almost three hundred guns opened up onto the forward facing slopes of the Zanvoorde ridge, which was occupied by soldiers of the Seventh Division and Seventh Cavalry Brigade. Seventy-five minutes later, when the artillery lifted, the lightly armed cavalrymen still left alive, now looked out down the gentle slope of the ridge through the haze, to see thousands of German infantry heading their way.
Communication lines had been cut in the bombardment so several units did not hear the order to retreat into trenches further to the rear. About three hundred men – a squadron from each of the 1st and 2nd Life Guards and the Machine Gun Section of the Royal Horse Guards, remained in shallow, make-shift trenches and fought on. By mid-morning they had been surrounded and overwhelmed by five battalions of German infantry. They were killed where they fought.
The Germans captured the ridge but failed to press home their advantage, and that area of the frontline then became a part of what was known as the ‘Ypres Salient’ once the war of movement ended with the ‘Race to the sea.’ And so Zanvoorde slipped into obscurity, just another name where a few hundred men were killed and buried, in a war where the dead in most later battles were counted in their thousands, not hundreds.
During my career as a Household Cavalryman, I had heard stories about Zanvoorde. One such story was about how the Kaiser had told his generals not to take any Household Cavalrymen alive. He knew the Life Guards and Royal Horse Guards were King George V’s personal bodyguard and favorite regiments. He thought wiping out the Household Cavalry would be a massive blow to his cousin's morale. I’m not convinced how accurate the story is, but it is still hard to explain why not one man escaped and of those few taken prisoner, not one was unwounded, not one.
One of the casualties was Lieutenant Charles Pelham (Lord Worsley), who was the son of the 4th Earl of Yarborough. He commanded the Royal Horse Guards machine gun section at Zanvoorde. His body was found by Germans and he was buried on the ridge where he fell. At the end of the war, his grave was found; he was exhumed and reburied in Ypres Town Cemetery Extension. His widow bought the land where his body was originally buried and in 1924 Earl Haig dedicated a memorial built on the gravesite, to Lord Worsley and the other 295 Household Cavalrymen who died there.
For a member of my family, the link with this little known battle in the early years of the First World War runs deep. My cousin, Captain (Retd) Mark Avison, who ended his career as the Riding Master of the Household Cavalry, grew up living on the estate of the 7th Earl of Yarborough in Lincolnshire. His parents, now retired, still live there today, having spent many years working for the Yarborough Estate. I can actually remember playing with my cousin, and our brothers, on the land owned by the Earl. Unbeknown to Mark and I, who would amass about fifty years service in the regiment between us, we were living and playing in the shadow of a fallen, fellow Household Cavalryman.
Zanvoorde might be just a blip on the radar of historians and world war one buffs, but for Household Cavalrymen, the 30th October 2014 will mark a somber date in the proud history of our regiment.
Since I reduced both Scott Adler books for Kindle, I've been asked several times, "When is another Scott Adler book coming out?" Well, like most things in life, there is never a straight forward, Yes or No answer. I have the title, 'Twin Conspiracy' and about twenty thousand words written, but I will not be working on the book until at least the end of 2015. But, I will finish the book, I promise!
About eighteen months ago, I stumbled upon a colorful character and decorated hero from the First World War. I reached out to the family of this man and I have spent the time since researching and writing about his exploits. I'm sorry if I'm being vague and not revealing too much, but since I started writing about him, I have subsequently found out there are several people researching the same man with the view to writing a screenplay for film and stage. So, as you can imagine I have to keep things close to my chest for now. I'm working really hard on the manuscript, and hope to have it completed by the middle of next year.
So to all Scott Adler fans out there, fear not, he's alive and well - just on a sabbatical tight now.
Spread the word to friends and family, you've got another 30 days to get The Devil's Wave and Imperial Blood for Kindle and the Kindle App. I will keep you all updated over the coming months how my latest project is progressing.
Thanks for all your continued support.
I'm pleased to announce that we are going to offer both The Devil's Wave and Imperial Blood at reduced prices for the next 60 days on Kindle.
For those of you in the USA, The Devil's Wave is priced at 99 cents while Imperial Blood costs $1.99.
In the UK, The Devil's Wave is 77p, while Imperial Blood is 1.26.
This offer will end on Monday 30th October.
And they said I would never give it up - how wrong they were, "I'm strong, I can control this," I told everyone. "I can pack it in, when I need too."
And so it's done, I am officially retired as a rugby coach, I'm going clean.
The garden is looking good, there are fish in the river waiting to be caught, the honey-do list is getting longer by the day, and I have several books that need to be written. So I have enough for me to be getting on with, and everything is fine and dandy with the world.
I can do this, right?
Two days into retirement and I'm finding it very hard to quit. There are a million rugby thoughts still swimming through my head. I cannot stop watching old games and reading rugby articles, and I cannot shake off the fact that I have suddenly stopped doing something that has consumed many thousands of hours of my life over the past decade or two. Old habits are hard to break.
Tying up loose ends after a pretty successful Collegiate Rugby Championships and staying involved with building up the team's Endowment Fund for the team are fueling my need for a rugby fix for now. But I cannot stop thinking about the 'what ifs' from this past weekend - I keep running through the games in my head, 'What if we had done this, what if we had done that."
And then what happens when the fall season begins? Will I start twitching and rolling about in convulsions come kick off time? Watching replays of the CRC or Johnny Wilkinson winning the world cup in 2003 might be my methadone for now, and its what is stopping me developing the full blown effects of going cold turkey.
But will fresh vegetables from the garden or a fat trout or too be enough to stop me heading back to my old ways when the whistle blows - I guess only time will tell.
London's changing skyline
I've never understood the rants of some of our older citizens when chiding younger generations. "It's not like it used to be in my day," and " It was so much better then," are usual comments over a game of bridge in the old folks home. Progress is needed, and we can't stay stuck in the past. But today, for once, I'm siding with the blue-rinse brigade.
Getting older and feeling the onset of nostalgia for a past youth, seen through rose-tinted glasses is just part of life, right? I understand that and have allowed myself no such old folks home responses, until today.
Last night I stayed up late looking at photographs on the internet of places where I grew up that have now been torn down. Two such places including my old school are now leveled to the ground and being developed in the name of progress. Another one is a military camp that I spent many years at - the history there is important but the state of the buildings demanded they be torn down.
So, I get it. Despite feeling the ravages of a well-spent youth and the nostalgia that comes with it, I awoke this morning feeling positive about life. But then I saw it, the latest addition to the London landscape, checked the date to make sure it wasn't 1st April, and knew that I had an old-folks home rant coming on.
Trafalgar Square is at the center of London. Its a place visited by millions of tourists each year who come to see whats unique about the United Kingdom; its rich history, beautiful buildings and seat of a monarchy that has lasted over a thousand years. Lord Nelson, Sir Charles Napier, the National Portrait Gallery, the Stone Lions, St. Martin-in-the Fields. Views of Buckingham Palace through Admiralty Arch, and the Houses of Parliament seen along Whitehall.
I understand progress, I totally get the need to move forward into a modern age. I like the new Shard building that now dominates the south bank in London. I didn't like the London Eye when it was first built. It looked too much like a fairground attraction next to places like the Houses of Parliament, but its grown on me.
I also understand our quirky sense of humor - our willingness for self-deprecation and poking fun at ourselves. But the monstrosity that now sits on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square is just embarrassing. And, at the risk of sounding like a bridge playing resident at the Sunyside retirement home, I tell you now, I hate it, and hope its taken down very soon.
I've been really busy the first part of this year. Being a rugby coach and other commitments have meant I really have not written much at all in 2013. But if I'm honest with myself, and my readers, I'm just making excuses. I've had the time, but I really have not had the drive or desire to bring Scott Adler back to life. This time last year, it took me less than six months to crank out Imperial Blood, from conception to being available on Amazon.
With two Scott Adler books out there in the public domain, everyone is telling me too write a third. I have a story ready to go and I'm sure it wouldn't take me long but there is something else that is bothering me.
The whole gun debate issue since the terrible shootings in Newtown have left me wondering whether or not I want to keep writing novels that include any kind of violence. I'm in favor of tighter restrictions on sales of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines and tighter back ground checks. But I also think there is too much violence on film and television and on bookshelves that is being viewed and read by children who are far too young.
But isn't that the height of hypocrisy? I hear you ask.
I've read and watched 007, Clancy and King books and violent films all my life. I'll be watching HBO's Game of Thrones later this month and the History Channel's new drama this Sunday called, Vikings. And both my novels contain portions which are very graphic and violent. And I cannot help but feel like I am a part of the problem (all be it - microscopic), which has led to a massive de-sensitizing of society where violence is concerned.
Obviously its part of life, so it becomes part of our culture. But I think we all have to do a better job of not only making sure we are careful who gets their hands on guns but also who we allow to experience entertainment that is gratuitously violent.
Whether or not I bring Scott Adler back to life in a third novel is up in the air right now, but I am getting back to writing and that is a good feeling.
Today, the headline on Politicus USA reads, "The biggest threat to America is the GOP's Domestic Right Wing Extremists." While I don't disagree with the idea that they are a danger, I would go one step further and label ALL extremists as being a danger to not just the United States, but our entire culture.
November's election showed that the GOP's recent lurch to the right does not translate at the polling station. So, the left wing of the Democratic party needs to learn this lesson fast and not allow those on the extreme left to pull most Democrats away from the center left.
My ire today is aimed at the pinko lefty-brigade who are calling for the Volkswagen Superbowl commercial to be pulled. I don't think its racist, and in fact, like most Jamaicans do, I think its a great advertisement for their wonderfully laid-back life style. There is now a spoof video, called the 'Germaican.' Perhaps the German Ambassador will be posting a protest in Kingston?
Yes, it is ridiculous!
The Daily Beast's Pia Glenn is getting an absolute savaging in the comments section to her column. There are many Jamaican's and black people who are telling her to stop being a 'politically correct moron!' And this is my point - extremist views of the left do nothing more than the extremist views of the Tea Party or the NRA - they alienate many voters pushing them towards the other side.
If anyone should be offended by commercials, films and even children's TV shows, then its me, an Englishman! Do you know how many bad and evil characters on the big and small screen that have rich English accents? If that character was black, or a muslim, Ms. Glenn and her friends be up in arms. Yes, it would be ridioculous of me to shout and scream every time Hollywood uses an actor with an English accent to try and destroy the world. But using the same mantra as Ms. Glenn, isn't it racism just the same?
My point is that this commercial should be seen as nothing more than clever marketing which puts a smile on your face. If Whoopi Goldberg is okay with it, then so I am.